Safety in Mexico: Reality vs. Sensationalist Media Hype

This article was originally published by Cathy Brown on Escape From America Magazine‘s website, and we thought you might find it interesting as well:

In the last few months, I have had the good fortune to visit Mexico a couple of times. For a single mom whose family and friends have no problem with me romping around Buenos Aires, taking my young kids to the Amazon, or climbing mountains in Africa, I cannot say that I was sufficiently prepared for the distinct reaction I got when people heard I was going to Mexico:

“You are going where? But what about the cartels?”

“Wow. I wouldn’t go there even if someone paid me”.

“Pretty irresponsible to be going there. You’ re a mother – you shouldn’t be putting yourself into situations like that…”

To which my response was:  “Have you ever been to Mexico? Oh, you haven’t… Well then, please at least tell me specifics as to what this violence is where I am going. What area is it in, and what specifically should I be on the lookout for?”

And, shocker…they have no idea. They just know it’s for sure really, really bad and I am totally going to get kidnapped/raped/shot/then probably beheaded for good measure.

"I can’t exactly sense the fear in my friend Fernando here, who recently visited Mexico for the first time."
“I can’t exactly sense the fear in my friend Fernando here, who recently visited Mexico for the first time.”

Let’s work off facts here, not just blatant, misguided, baseless fear. The US government advises against visiting very specific places where drug cartels are warring over the billions of dollars made yearly trading illegal substances into the United States, and the efforts by the Mexican government to put an end to the drug traffic. Problems come in when, after hearing “warning” and “Mexico,” all too many Americans perceive the advisory for the country as a whole, which it clearly is not. Leslie Bassett, Deputy Chief of Mission of the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City, declared that the intention of the alert is to inform people of some violent acts that are taking place in specific states of Mexico. She clarified that in no way does this alert seek to negatively portray the tourist destinations.

Mexico is roughly the size of Western Europe. Of Mexico’s 2,500 municipalities, only 18 have been considered to be a security problem.  Please read that sentence again. Pretty sure that leaves you with a 2482 very safe options if you want to travel to Mexico. Yes, there are places in Mexico that have had problems with drug violence. But the majority of Mexico’s organized-crime killings last year took place in a mere three of Mexico’s 31 states: Chihuahua, Tamaulipas and Nuevo Leon. I am not here to dispute that there has been and is drug violence in Mexico. I am here to point out that those specific places are likely nowhere near where you as a tourist or expat are planning to go.

I would hope you would find it downright silly if you heard a Mexican saying that they would never, EVER, consider going hiking in Oregon nor go golfing at Myrtle Beach because they heard reports of there being drug-related gang violence in South Side LA. Well, you know what? Where you most likely would be going in Mexico is perhaps further from the violence, distance-wise, than Oregon is from LA. The bandits are not going to travel 800 miles to come after you, American tourist drinking margaritas on the beach or taking pictures at Chichen Itza. They actually don’t care about you, I am sorry to inform.

"Three problem areas to be avoided (Tijuana, Juarez, and Nuevo Loredo), and how far these places actually lie from main tourist areas." Cathy Brown
“Three problem areas to be avoided (Tijuana, Juarez, and Nuevo Loredo), and how far these places actually lie from main tourist areas.” Cathy Brown

Don’t be stupid. Don’t buy or sell drugs in Mexico. Don’t flash large amounts of money or jewelry. Don’t visit the specific border towns notorious for violence. That is a given. Use common sense and you will be as fine in Mexico as you would in most other tourist destinations around the world.

Let’s look at some actual statistics from the UN Office of Drugs and Crime:  In drug offenses, Mexico recently ranked 12th in the world, and the US 4th. When it came to homocides with firearms, the US ranked 7thand Mexico 17th, (39.56 per 100,000 vs. Mexico’s 20.6). Yes, that means the US has 92% more homicides with guns than Mexico. So all of those people in the US telling you that you will get shot and killed in Mexico should be more worried about themselves.

Recent FBI statistics show the murder rate per 100,000 inhabitants in Baltimore is 43.3, Washington D.C. is 29.1 and Detroit is 47. Mexico, however, which suffered an especially violent year in 2008, recorded a murder rate of about 10 per 100,000. You do the math…

Travel writer Kyle Ellison put it perfectly when he said: “While I could rattle statistics off from a slew of different sources, the bottom line and the main point which needs to be made is that traveling to Mexico is no more dangerous than living in any major global city. Of the 60 countries I’ve wandered through and after 20+ visits to Mexico, you know where I’ve felt the most in danger (including when I thought I was kidnapped in Borneo)?  When I got lost on the south side of Chicago.”

In the last couple of months, I have personally visited Mexico City, Queretaro, Puebla, Mazatlan, Baja, and Veracruz. I have had nothing except phenomenal experiences, met some of the warmest, most welcoming people, and not for one moment did I feel unsafe in any way. I have enjoyed scuba and snorkeling, I have rafted, climbed, and hiked to hidden waterfalls and caves. I have explored archeological ruins, I have seen gorgeous art and architecture, and I have eaten some of the most memorable meals of my life. To have missed out on any one of these experiences because of what I heard from some media outlet needing the next sensational story would be sad and senseless. I would travel to Mexico alone, and I would travel with my three small kids. No second thoughts on that whatsoever.

"There was a distinct lack of drug cartel activity as I recently snorkeled here on the very tranquilo Coronado Island in the Sea of Cortez…" Cathy Brown
“There was a distinct lack of drug cartel activity as I recently snorkeled here on the very tranquilo Coronado Island in the Sea of Cortez…” Cathy Brown

Mexico ranks tenth as an international travel destination in the world and, regardless of the negative media hype, remains the number one international tourism destination for North Americans traveling abroad. Many tourists to the country are repeat visitors, which demonstrates that the vast majority of tourists are satisfied and leave with overwhelmingly positive impressions.

The Mexican government is expecting 2012 to be a good year for tourism. In fact, Mexico is expecting 52 million tourists to visit its five southern states – that compares to 22 million foreign visitors to all of Mexico in 2011.

If you choose to not visit Mexico in response to media hype, that is obviously your choice. But just know that there are millions of other Americans out there living life to the fullest and exploring an amazing country full of warmth, culture, natural beauty and history, right in the backyard of the US. I hate to say it, but if you sidestep Mexico due to fear, it is your loss. As Mark Twain put all so well, “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” Give Mexico a chance – I am willing to bet you may just end up falling in love with the country as so many other travelers and expats have.


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10 thoughts on “Safety in Mexico: Reality vs. Sensationalist Media Hype”

  • Marco Mastraantonio

    February 2, 2013 at 2:33 pm

    well to miss Cathy Brown,,, thank you for speaking truth about Mexico,,, I myself am a mexican born national,, who spent 30 sum years in the states,, California to be exact,,and well i have been in Mexico for 5 years,, and still here,,,, and i must agree with you,,, for ive seen both sides of the countries ,,and i see the propaganda,, ,yes there is crime here, i will not deny one bit,, and heinous crimes at that,,,but in my exploration of my home country,, i have not seen,,, anyviolence,even in towns as tijuana,,and jalisco ,,guanajuato ,,mexico city,,and now in Cancun,,, and not once have i seen anything to make me feel threatened or fearful,,, i even look like im not from around, ,,as the people obviously know,,and yet ,, i feel just as safe, as i would feel in California,,, you want to avoid crime? well stay away from the ghettos of any town,, here in mexico or in the States,,,,, mexico has beautiful places,,and your more than welcome to come and enjoy,,this country of passion,,,,,

  • Elena M. Uranga

    February 2, 2013 at 3:10 pm

    Excellent .article. Very honest

  • Donna

    February 4, 2013 at 8:55 am

    Thank you for this artical, we spend our winters on the Baja and have traveled the rest of Mexico as well. We talk to alot of Americans about how the media is pulling the wool over the eyes of its people. Clearly, the United States wants of keep it’s and Canada’s tourist dollars in United States.

  • Joan & Bill Hampshire

    February 4, 2013 at 7:37 pm

    Bill and I just got home from back packing for a month in Mexico starting in Manzanillo, then Melaque, then Puerto Vallarta and final destination Rincon de Guayabitos…,.we took the Mexican Bus’s all over from town to town and it was wonderful….the Mexican people are some of the most happy, courteous, friendly people that we have ever had the pleasure of meeting…and as the story reported just use common sense were ever you go even at home and all should be okay…..don’t miss out on a wonderful experience by not visiting Mexico..,life is to short to not enjoy yourself and you just might be surprised how safe Mexico life is…please enjoy yourself,…..

  • Joan Hampshire

    February 4, 2013 at 7:55 pm

    we just got home from back packing around Mexico for the past month….we started in Manzanillo, next was Melaque, then Puerto Vallarta, then Rincon de Guayabitos…we took the Mexican Bus System between all these wonderful towns…they were great and comfortable and safe…the Mexican people were more then courteous, helpful, kind, happy people and we are very greatful that they have shared their country with us for the 2nd year in a row… have to use common sense were ever you are…even in your own town/country…please don’t let people scare you from not enjoying is just to short to hide away and not enjoy our neighbors to the south of Canada and the United States…..just don’t go into places that you don’t belong even in your own town…..and some day we’ll be flying upstairs with a strawberry in one hand and a glass of champagne in the other screaming “Life has been a blast”…..enjoy…..

  • Vin

    August 24, 2017 at 12:58 pm

    Forgot to mention there has been a rash of incidents involvIng unwwlecomed added grain alcohol and or drugs to mixed drinks specifically at resorts. Presently under investigation. Has caused injury and unfortunate death in some cases. Much more prevalent i. Mexican resort ls for some reason.

  • Artemisa

    August 24, 2017 at 4:48 pm

    Gracias Cathy Brown por tu articulo como mexicana te agradezco tu explicación y sean bienvenidos todos a nuestro hermoso pais.
    Now you have to organize your next trip to Las Coloradas and Rio Lagartos at Yucatan is amazing.

    Saludos desde Cancun

  • Tammy

    August 24, 2017 at 5:58 pm

    I have been to Mexico countless times. Let’s start with the people who live there. The most polite, giving, and sweetest human being, they will go out of there way to please anyone. It’s such a beautiful country. I don’t know why anyone would not want to go. I live in southern California. I love my country. I love my state. But I know where to go and where not to go. The same for any country you visit. I read that out of the 164 countrys in the world. That Mexico is number 22 most dangerous. But that america is number 50 out of 164. So that being said i will take my chances in Mexico and my home country. Love them both. Enjoy your life. Travel have fun.

  • Nelson

    August 24, 2017 at 10:25 pm

    Do you have any more recent information, specifically about Cozumel. The State Dept. just put out a warning.

  • Love cabos

    August 26, 2017 at 5:07 am

    I agree that the media is blowing things out of proportion but the Mexican government is. Iwnreporting high risks areas such as cancun, Los Cabo’s and Las Paz.
    Los cabos has had the highest killings so far this year.
    I have travelled to the Los cabos area for the last five years and in feb 2017 that risks were there.
    Two days after our arrival and only 10 minute drive from where we stay there was a cartel shooting outside a popular beach

    restaurant. Then two days later we were advised to stay around our condo as there was going to be action. Sure enough there was
    a shooting in a local restaurant located in a tourist area. The day we were to leave, the was a faceoff between the police and cartels at the Hyatt hotel located in a tourist area and only 15
    minutes away from where we are staying.
    Recently at a beach where tourist frequent and right next door In a community , there was a shooting.

    So the risks are real in the Los cabos tourist areas with the cartels.


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